The Major League Baseball postseason is here. For the first time since 2009, the Boston Red Sox are involved.

Look around and you can almost tell.

I don’t sense a groundswell of expectations from the “casual fan” heading into October. Perhaps that is reason to lift hands to heaven in a prayer of thanksgiving.

We know that the casual fan is the scourge of professional sports, after all. And for the most part, the pink hats (save your cards and letters, please; that term has nothing to do with gender discrimination and everything to do with poser intolerance) have stayed in cold storage along with Wes Welker jerseys this summer and early fall.

Some of us were so badly stigmatized by the Bobby Valentine Er(ror) that we avoided all temptation to embrace this ragtag attempt at reinventing the franchise, even though it pretty much ruled the American League East from wire-to-wire.

That’s OK. Apathy and/or caution are almost forgivable, given the embarrassment that was the end of Terry Francona’s tenure in 2011 and management’s vast over-correction in the months that followed. But there’s plenty of time and plenty of room for those wishing to quietly, humbly, find a seat on this bandwagon.

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Going into Sunday’s final games of the regular season, the Red Sox had clinched no worse than a tie for the best record in baseball. It’s a fair representation of a team that consistently did everything well, across the board.

It’s also, historically, the last label you want to wear when heading into the playoffs. Here’s a statistic that should scare you to death: Since 1998, when the New York Yankees were clearly the class of MLB from grapefruits to champagne, only two teams captured the unofficial equivalent of the NHL Presidents’ Trophy and went on to win the World Series. 1) 2007 Red Sox. 2) 2009 Yankees. And even those Sox shared the ’07 distinction with the Cleveland Indians, against whom they rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the ALCS before ruining Colorado’s Rock-tober.

If there’s a thought that provides me comfort after being slapped across the face with that data, it’s that these Sox have received almost none of the national fanfare that customarily serenades the regular-season champ. In fact, neither the No. 1 seed Sox nor the No. 2 Oakland Athletics will enter the fray as the sexy pick to win it all.

That curse will be bestowed upon the AL Central champion Detroit Tigers, they of the gruff, chain-smoking manager from central casting, the everyman slugger who’s so dressed out by carbohydrates that nobody ever links him with PEDs, and the one-two punch atop the rotation that apparently scares everyone to death.

No, the Sox don’t have Jim Leyland, but they do have John Farrell, lifted from the division rival that everyone else crowned in March. It’s like the Bill Belichick story all over again, only with a guy who doesn’t treat the media like a raging case of shingles.

Farrell was the middle ground upper management should have sought in the first place after the beer-and-chicken debacle. He has shown that you can treat your players like men without letting them run amok. He has massaged everything from the pitching staff to an injury-plagued lineup to the difficulty of leading a franchise in Boston with such dexterity that it is hard to criticize anything he has done. He is the primary reason the Sox didn’t experience a losing skid longer than four games all season, and he is the AL Manager of the Year, end of discussion.

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No, the Sox don’t have Miggy Cabrera, but they did score 50 more runs than anybody else in the American League.

They entered the final day of the regular season with an identical number of home runs to Detroit (176). Doubles? Total bases? On-base, slugging and OPS? No AL team was better than the Sox. They have pop from top-to-bottom and up-and-down the bench. They flaunt overall team speed that Don Zimmer and John McNamara would have found laughable.

No, the Sox don’t have Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, but they do have —  by far —  the preeminent starting rotation, one through … six, really … in all of baseball.

I’ll take my chances with Jon Lester (won the deciding game two months out of chemotherapy in 2007), Clay Buchholz (well rested and perpetually relaxed), John Lackey (surgically repaired, career-best ERA, World Series ring, dozen career postseason starts) and Jake Peavy (bulldog) against anybody. As a lefty out of the bullpen, Craig Breslow has looked positively Alan Embree and Hideki Okajima-like. And call Koji Uehara “unconventional” or “unlikely” all you want, but he is undeniably the best closer in the game since July.

Don’t consider any of this a bold prediction. The division series — whether it ends up being against the obnoxious Rays, Tito’s Tribe or the playoff-tested Rangers —  scares me to death. Neither the anointed Tigers nor the Athletics and all their why-not-us, Moneyball sensibilities will say die in anything this side of six games. It’s going to be such a grind that I refuse to even talk about the castoff Dodgers, consistent Cardinals or cute, cuddly Pirates yet.

This much I promise: It will be worth watching. For those of you who were too emotionally scarred by 2011-12 to do so, now would be a great time to dust off that cap, whatever color it is, and reconsider.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Oaksie72.


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